Icons of Motherhood
I hope you have her enshrined in sacred words and pictures
For this week’s Mother’s Day feature, 16 daughters and sons describe their mothers’ superwoman strength when standing by their sides. Without second thought, most chose one single moment preserved full, fresh and sacred out the procession of shared hours, days and years. What that moment would be no one but the writer — certainly not her or his mother — could imagine.
Most, but not all, are scenes of childhood. In many, mother flexes her muscles and villains flee. Some are small at the moment, rising monumental in aftermath. These are wonderful reminders of the topography of a child’s world. Beyond childhood, mother retains her power and remains by her child’s side, surprising our adult selves by understanding — and being — more than we may now give her credit for. Some stories need no interpretation but others are subtle, and you, like the person who wrote them, will have to puzzle out the relationship they depict. One is a late discovery that redefined a heritage.
No surprise is that our hearts would fly unerringly as a homing pigeon to the moment that speaks for a lifetime.
No surprise to me because that’s how this story came to be.
As I pondered what slice of mother-child life to choose for this year’s story, a picture nudged itself forward. I couldn’t get past it. Taken long, long ago and shut up for many years in a photo album, it was just one photograph among the hundreds chronicling my life with mother. But of all those images — and all the millions more moments not recorded on film — this one demanded my attention.
As I saw it clearly in memory, I curled in my mother’s arms, my head against her chest. It is, however, not a baby picture. In this photo, I am a girl of 15. Already brewing are the wars that will be fought as I push myself out of her arms, shadow, will and intention to make a life on my own. But for this moment captured in black and white by that era’s instant camera, the Polaroid, in my mother’s arms I am in the safest, soundest, sweetest place in the world.
Then the ladder came out, and the climber went up to fetch the heavy album marked 1952-1964 from its lofty perch. My heart was high in my chest as I paged through. Other photos meant nothing to me. Only this one, and perhaps it wouldn’t be there. Two-thirds of the way in, past its chronological place, I found it.
It was as I imagined it — and more, for I had so focused on the central figures that I forgot the context. My mother, 37 at the time — is grinning mischievously past me, into the camera and behind it at my stepfather, Gene Schaper. She is, of course, beautiful, and this is clearly one of her happy hours. Her hair, with just a lick of gray, is cut in the way I liked best. It’s a Sunday night for she’s dressed not in the glamorous style of a work night at our family’s restaurant but in a sweater and — I am sure though I cannot see them — slacks. Her first French poodle, Cina — short for piccolina — is on the couch beside us. The furniture, including a big window air conditioner, is unselfconsciously 1950s; in a year or so, an interior decorator will turn this room out in turquoise and tangerine.
This is my jumping off point. From here, I walked out of my mother’s arms and into the future.
As we all did, the luckiest among us able to say we had our mothers by our sides.
Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; email@example.com